Thursday, May 31, 2007

Non-Kosher Quotes II

Apropos to this old post, I saw this response from Eretz Hemdah (link):
One should realize that even if a phrase’s source is the sacred books of a certain religion, if its use as a phrase or idiom freely crosses religious lines, it does not represent that religion. One can prove this from our own religious texts, l’havdil elef havdalot. One should not write three words from the Torah without underlining the scroll. Yet, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 284:2) allows doing so if the words are used as an idiom, not as a reference to the ideas as found in the Torah. Also, one can recite phrases from the Torah in a non-Torah context before reciting birkat hatorah (Mishna Berura 47:4). Similarly, phrases that emanate from other religions should be able to be removed from their context and status.

Let us summarize. One can be respected for avoiding non-Jewish cultural associations in strict adherence to the spirit of the laws of chukot hagoyim. Yet, many of us legitimately value the advantages of integration, to the extent permitted by halacha, in the general society of our origin, which has strong roots in other religions. At least when using society’s standard phrases does not conjure up thoughts of the tenets and texts of other religions, it is permitted. We purposely left out examples. Why should we cause the power of suggestion to make people self-conscious about common phrases that good Jews use without giving a second thought to their origin?

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Living the Halachic Process

The Jewish Standard has an article (link) in which it announces that Eretz Hemdah has published an English book with its collected "Ask the Rabbi" questions and answers under the title Living The Halachic Process: Questions and Answers for the Modern Jew.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Room Enough for Two (Tefillin)

R. Daniel Z. Feldman on wearing two pairs of tefillin (link):
The Sanzer Rebbe (Resp. Divrei Chaim, II, O.C. 6) dealt with the question of whether it is appropriate to use a mirror to ascertain that one’s tefilin are properly positioned. (The question is predicated on the assumption that men should not use mirrors, out of concern for “beged ishah”, as stated in Y.D. 156:2; however, see Rama, who notes that in societies in which men also use mirrors, it is permissible to do so). He responded that there is no need to use a mirror for this purpose, in light of the statement of the Talmud (Eiruvin 95b) “there is room on the head to place two tefilin”. If this is the case, that there is twice as much room as is necessary, it would certainly be possible to place one tefilin box within the appropriate parameters without use of a mirror.

His assumption is that the Talmud’s statement is a reference to placing two boxes side by side. It can be argued, however, that the Talmud only referred to placing two boxes one on top of the other; going across, however, the space is more limited, as indicated by the Torah’s requirement of “between your eyes”. As R. Shlomo Wahrman (She’erit Yosef, II, 5:1) observes, this is apparently the view of the Radbaz (916) and the Rosh (Hil. Tefilin, 9a, s.v. amar), as well as the Taz (O.C. 32:2), and that both views are noted in the Beit Yosef (O.C. 27).

It should also be noted that the Taz also states that it is unclear if the halakhah actually accepts the view that “there is room on the head to place two tefilin”, and that the Magen Avraham (301:54) writes that in present times we are not sufficiently expert to know where the two boxes would fit. (See also Resp. Hit’or’rut Teshuvah, O.C. 12-13).
Once, when I was in Israel for a week, I attended a Sephardic synagogue for all of the services and the rabbi there wore two pairs of tefillin on his head, one in the "normal" place above the hairline and another higher up on the head, which he covered with a big yarmulka. That sight gave me a new understanding of the above-quoted Gemara in Eruvin about wearing two pairs of tefillin at the same time.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Dangers of Drinking

R. Mayer Twersky on TorahWeb (link):
Chazal [our Sages] comment that the parsha of nazir (the nazirite) is juxtaposed to that of sotah (the adulteress) to teach us that “one who witnesses the corruption and downfall of the sotah should accept upon himself an oath to abstain from wine.”

Chazal are commenting on a typological case where intoxication was a major contributing factor to the sin of adultery. This causal nexus between intoxication and loss of appropriate inhibition is all too prominently manifest in contemporary American society, most infamously on college campuses. But adultery in particular, and promiscuity, in general, are only two of the manifold dangers of intoxication. Ono’as devarim (hurtful speech) commonly issues forth from lips loosened by the effects of intoxication. Nor should we forget for even a moment the sacrilege perpetrated by those who are visibly intoxicated on Shabbos during musaf after participating in their kiddush club. Shabbos is a day consecrated “la-Hashem Elokecha”(to Hashem, your God); tefillah (prayer) involves standing before Hashem and speaking to Him. What a compounded chilul Hashem to be intoxicated while davening (praying) on Shabbos!

Blue Moon and More

Blue Moon

This week we will have a "blue moon". See here for the definition of it: Two full moons in the same solar month. And see here for the Wikipedia entry.

Pass the Pasta

I was feeding my 10-month old today and put a bunch of macaroni on his tray. He picked up a handful and shoved it in his face. One piece went into his mouth and the rest fell onto his bib. He then repeated the exercise with only one piece going into his mouth and the rest onto his bib. I told him, "Pasta merubah lo pasta" but he didn't appreciate the pun.

The Signs They Are A-Changin'

I live a few blocks from an auto mall, with various car dealerships and their service centers. Recently, due to the increased Jewish presence in the community, the dealerships have opened on Sundays. They made a big deal about this and hung up signs in English and Yiddish about how they are opening for us out of friendship (which, of course, is not true; they just want our business). The funny thing is that most people in the neighborhood have such limited Yiddish abilities that they knew what the Yiddish signs said because of the English translation. I noticed a week or two ago that all but one of the Yiddish-English signs have been replaced with Hebrew-English signs, which at least for me is much more understandable. It could have been worse. They could have put up Yiddish signs for a Sephardic community.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


This is one of the first things I ever sent to an e-mail list, which is now archived on the web (link):
The Gemara in K'suvos (60a) states that human blood is Biblically permitted. Rabbinically it is forbidden when it becomes detached from the body (eg if it drips onto food). The reason for this is either so that no one suspects you of eating forbidden animal blood (Rashi, Ran, Nimukei Yosef) or so that you do not accidentally eat animal blood instead of human blood (Rosh, Rambam). The Tur and Shulchan Aruch (YD 66) quote the first reason and the Aruch HaShulchan quotes the second. The Shulchan Aruch states that if blood drips into food it should be removed. If it has already been mixed in (and is less than 1/60 of the mixture, which is almost certain unless the blood really gushed out) then it is permissible to eat the mixture.

However, eating human flesh is a more controversial subject. There are at least four different opinions on the subject. The Ramban says that when the Gemara learns that eating blood is permissible, it also learns that eating human flesh is permissible. The Ra'avad (Hilchos Ma'achalos Assuros 3:4), the Rashba, and the Rosh (5:19) agree with the Ramban. However, the Rosh adds that the same rabbinical prohibition that applies to human blood (when it is detached) also applies to human flesh. The Reah and Ritva say that eating human flesh is forbidden because humans are not kosher animals and that the permission learned in the Gemara does not apply to flesh. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma'achalos Assuros 2:3,3:4) agrees that the permission does not apply to human flesh. However, he feels that the prohibition not to eat non-kosher animals does not apply to humans but the positive commandment to only eat kosher animals effectively excludes the option. The difference being that if you did eat human flesh and it was forbidden by a prohibition (Reah and Ritva) then you would be punished by a beis din (rabbinic court) with lashes. If it was only forbidden from a positive commandment (Rambam) then there would be no such punishment from a beis din. The Nimukei Yosef agrees with the Ramban that theoretically human flesh is permissible to eat. However, because it forbidden to eat flesh from a live animal (Eiver min hachai) and it is forbidden to derive any benefit from a human corpse, it is impossible in practice to use this permission. The Tur and Shulchan Aruch do not discuss this issue and the Rema (YD 79:1) says that human flesh is biblically forbidden (not like the Ramban, Rosh, etc.) to eat (not like the Ramban, Rosh, etc.) but does not specify which biblical prohibition.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Doubtful Belief

The Gemara in Shabbos (31a) tells the story of how a Gentile wished to convert but stated that he only believed in the Written Torah but not the Oral Torah. Shammai sent him away but Hillel converted him and then convinced him about the Oral Torah. Rashi (sv. geireih) explains that the convert did not reject the Oral Torah but just did not believe in it (שלא היה כופר בתורה שבעל פה אלא שלא היה מאמין שהיא מפי הגבורה). What does that mean? Either he did or did not believe in it.

R. Yosef Engel, in his Gilyonei Ha-Shas ad loc., quotes the Chiddushei Gur Aryeh who suggests based on this Rashi that one who rejects the Oral Torah is not considered a heretic. Otherwise, how could Hillel have converted a heretic? R. Engel disagrees and explains that one can only be a heretic if he knows the Torah and then rejects it. This Gentile had never learned the Torah properly and therefore could not be considered a heretic for rejecting it. See the Rashash's glosses for a similar approach.

R. Norman Lamm, in his classic essay "Faith and Doubt" (recently reprinted in a new edition of Faith & Doubt, pp. 16-17), has an explanation that does not go as far as the above. He suggests that this Gentile had doubts but not full-fledged disbelief. Someone who believes to the contrary of a fundamental belief is a heretic but someone who merely has doubts does not reach the status of a heretic.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Why Was the Torah Forced Upon Us?

R. Hershel Schachter on TorahWeb:
Before G-d was prepared to give His Torah to the Jewish people He first wanted to know whether they were prepared to accept it. With great enthusiasm the Jews expressed their desire to both accept and observe all of the laws of the Torah. Then according to Talmudic tradition (Shabbos 88a), G-d pressured the Jewish people to accept the Torah, and forced it upon them against their wishes.

The commentaries on the Talmud all wonder, why it was necessary to force the Torah upon the Jews if they had already enthusiastically expressed their willingness to accept it? The Medrash Tanchuma (to Parshas Noach) elaborates upon this aggada and distinguishes between the different parts of the Torah. The people were prepared to accept both G-d's written Torah, and all the halachos l'Moshe miSinai – transmitted directly from G-d. Their response to Moshe was that “kol asher deiber Hashem na'aseh” - that all that G-d had said we are prepared to accept. But the bulk of the Oral Torah is really what the Talmud and the Rambam refer to as “divrei Sofrim”, halachos which were developed over the centuries with much rabbinic input. The rabbis were licensed to employ the various “middos shehaTorah nidrehses bohem” to read (so to speak) “in between the lines” of the Torah in order to present a fuller picture of each of the mitzvos. This the Jews at Har Sinai were not prepared to accept. They felt that this was not Divine! This is a human Torah, and all humans can err. Why should they agree to be subservient to the idea of other human beings? Who says that another is so much more intelligent than I? Each Jew should be entitled to interpret the law according to his own understanding!

And it was this part of the Torah that G-d had to force upon us. Whether we like it or not, G-d expects us to follow the positions set forth by the rabbis in interpreting the Torah. Not until years later, after the story of Purim occurred, did the Jewish people as a whole fully accept this aspect of rabbinic authority. It was at that time that Ezra and the Anshei Kneses Hag'dolah set up the entire system of the Torah sheb'al peh as we know it today. They formulated the text for all blessings and prayers, kiddush and havdalah, the system of thirty-nine categories of melacha, etc., along with many rabbinic enactments. Klal Yisroel at the period of the beginning of the second temple wholeheartedly accepted all of these formulations and innovations of their rabbonim.[1]

[1] See essays by Rav Moshe Zvi Neriah in Meorot Neriah, Purim, pp. 164-171.

A Plea for Akdamos

Dan Rabinowitz has a good post on Akdamos (really, Akdamus) (link).

Why, oh why, is it so hard for people to pronounce the Aramaic PROPERLY?

Since I've left yeshiva, the only one I've heard do it right is R. Ephraim Kanarfogel, although I'll admit to not having too much experience in various shuls on Shavuos morning.

Please people, at least pronounce the last word in the lines milera (emphasis on the last syllable) unless otherwise indicated:
AkdaMUS miLIN ve-sharaYUS shuSA...

JIB Results

The JIB results are in and Hirhurim came in first in the categories of Best Jewish Mega Blog and Best Torah Blog, and third in the category of Best Jewish Religious Blog. Thank you all for your support.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Cross Dressing

The Torah commands us (Deut. 22:5) "A woman shall not wear that which pertains to a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination unto the Lord your God." Effectively, this means, among other things derived from this verse, that a man may not dress like a woman and vice versa.

There are two major disagreements regarding the details of these prohibitions that have practical ramifications.

I. Non-Mischievous Dressing

The Semak (33) writes that the reason for these prohibitions is that a man or woman will dress like the opposite gender in order to enable immoral relations. The Semag (Lavin 59-60) seems to say that as well, albeit somewhat vaguely. (The Binas Adam (90) reads the Semag differently, although I really don't see it in the text.) This would mean that it would be permissible for a man to dress like a woman as a joke. And so the Mahari Mintz writes in a responsum (15) regarding wearing costumes of the opposite gender on Purim. Significantly, the Rema (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 696:8) rules according to the Mahari Mintz.

However, there is no indication for such a leniency in the Rambam's Mishneh Torah (Hilkhos Avodah Zarah 12:10) and the Birkei Yosef (Shiyurei Berakhah, Orach Chaim 696:3) quotes a responsum from the Rambam in which he explicitly prohibits dressing like the opposite gender as a joke at a wedding (others, such as R. Nachum Rabinovitch in his Yad Peshutah ad loc., attribute this to R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam). Similarly, the Yere'im (96) rules that a man may not wear women's clothes as a joke, even at a wedding.

Based on this Yere'im, the Bach (Yoreh De'ah 182) argues on the Rema's leniency for Purim. However, the Bach still permitted wearing women's clothes if one's intent is not to look like a woman, e.g. if it is raining and the only raincoat available is a woman's. However, the Shakh (Yoreh De'ah 182:7) attempted to bridge these two positions. He suggested that wearing some women's garments, but not looking entirely like a woman, is allowed for a joke. But dressing exactly like a woman to the point of looking like one is always prohibited. Thus, the Yere'im must have been speaking about doing the latter at a wedding, which is prohibited, while the Rema was speaking about the former on Purim, which is permitted. The Pri Megadim (Orach Chaim 696: ) seems to rule like this Shakh.

This leads to the second area of disagreement.

II. One or Multiple Articles of Clothing

Is the prohibition to only wear one article of clothing from the opposite gender or to dress entirely? If the latter, it would be entirely permissible for a man to put on a woman's scarf as long as he is wearing pants. The aformentioned Shakh accepts a leniency if one is wearing only some garments from the opposite gender. The Bach goes even further and suggests that it is entirely permissible if one is not fully dressed like the opposite gender. However, this is difficult because it is not mentioned in the rishonim. To the opposite, the Rambam seems to say that it is prohibited to wear even one article of clothing, without making any distinctions. The Revid Ha-Zahav (Ki Setze, sv. lo silbash) makes the observation that the verse prohibits a woman from wearing a keli gever, an article of clothing, in the singular. And so the Rema (Yoreh De'ah 182:5) ruled.

III. On Purim

As mentioned above, the Rema allows dressing like the opposite gender as part of a Purim celebration. However, the Bach strongly attacks this view. His son-in-law, the Taz (Yoreh De'ah 182:4), ruled that technically one can follow the Rema but one who is stringent is praiseworthy. The Shakh and Pri Megadim defended the Rema's position, while the Birkei Yosef opposed it. The Mishnah Berurah (696:30) quotes the Shela"h, Be'er Ha-Golah and Kenesses Ha-Gedolah who warned against following the practice. Significantly, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (696:18) wrote that the Rema's justification did not apply in his (the Arukh Ha-Shulchan's) time because the practice was not to dress like that.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Yashar Chapters 1:2—The Defense Lawyer's Dilemma

Dear Friend,

Welcome to the second issue of Yashar Chapters, a new newsletter from Yashar Books in which we send you complete chapters from a recent book of interest. This issue’s book is Rabbi Michael J. Broyde’s The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law: Halakhic Perspectives on the Legal Profession. The book dissects the religious dilemmas a lawyer faces and provides guidance on how to navigate the world of the legal profession. Rabbi Broyde—a respected rabbi and law professor, and a renowned expert on Jewish legal ethics—takes the reader through the halakhic and ethical considerations of issues such as defending a guilty client, aggressively cross-examining a witness, maintaining professional confidentiality when someone will be hurt, writing wills that are counter to Jewish inheritance law, litigating child custody in secular courts and much more. The complexity of these ethical dilemmas is matched by Rabbi Broyde’s clarity of thought and writing. Please read below the book’s chapter on defending a guilty client. This is a fascinating topic that impacts on the lives of many people.

More information about the book can be found at the Yashar website. It can be purchased at your local Judaica store, on Yashar’s website and

The goal of this newsletter is to spread Torah and to introduce you to books that you might find interesting, without the risk of you having to pay first. In that end, please feel free to forward this newsletter to anyone you think might be interested or to quote it entirely or in part in your blog, newspaper or magazine. Just please be sure to note the author’s name and the book’s title: Michael J. Broyde, The Pursuit of Justice and Jewish Law.

Read the chapter here:

Thank you,

Gil Student

Shavuos Material from YU

Shavuos material from YU (link):
  • Are We All Thieves? Hi-Tech Heists and Halacha (adults)
  • Facebook and Friendship (teens)
  • Medical Enhancement: Promises and Perils (adults)
  • Bible Hunt Learning to Use Tanakh (children)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Problem with Education Today

A typically cynical and insightful analysis from Ben Chorin:
Once, mechankhim were hopelessly out of touch with the modern world; they were able to impart intensity but their students were left with the work of reconciling this intense insular experience with the modern world on their own. The results varied but some interesting people turned up.

Many – definitely not all – so-called “frum” schools today have no aspiration to impart intensity. Their sole aspiration is to prevent their charges from dealing with conflict. The most alluring (and most deadly) aspects of American materialism have simply been co-opted. Pseudo-colleges have been established to avoid confrontation with any genuine intellectual challenge. Seminaries for girls, and more than a few “yeshivos”, have replaced actual learning with every manner of fluff: “hashkafa”, “mussar”, “midos”. If the bar gets any lower, the limbo dancers are gonna be out of business.

I don’t know if these institutions are simply filling a need by catering to hopelessly dumb kids or if they’re taking bright curious kids and turning them into mindless deadbeats.
I'm not sure whether this is a damning critique or a yearning for the good old days of youth that are a romanticized memory of people reaching the age of grandparenthood.

Where Have All the Firstborns Gone?

Numbers 3:43 states that in the second year after the Exodus there were 22,273 firstborns over the age of one month. If you add 300 for the firstborn Levites, you arrive at approximately 23K firstborns. Out of a population of 600K men between the ages of 20 and 60, and presumably 600K women of that same age group, why are there only 23K firstborn males? One would expect that half of the 600K couples would have a firstborn son, which would imply that there should be 300K firstborns. Why is there less than 10% of that number?

R. Aryeh Kaplan, in his footnotes to The Living Torah, suggests that many Jews in Egypt did not put blood on their doorposts during the final plague and therefore their firstborns were killed as well. Alternatively, he proposes that many women gave birth to girls first, but does not explain why that might be the case.

R. Yehuda Henkin, in his New Interpretations on the Parsha (p. 117), offers the following explanations:
Perhaps initial miscarriages resulting from slavery, malnutrition, and child marriages were prevalent in Egypt, and these denied the status of firstborn to subsequent live births. Or, there may have been few firstborn in the first census in the desert because few elected to leave Egypt, where they were a privileged class.[4]

The Midrash offers another possibility. The Torah employs six verbs to describe the fecundity of Israel in Egypt (Shemot 1:7), and the Midrash sees this as an allusion that Jewish women gave birth to sextuplets.[5] If so, ten pregnancies per mother would yield sixty offspring, of which only one would be firstborn; half of the children and of the firstborn would be males, with one male firstborn for every sixty male births.

[4] Cf. Shemot Rabbah 14:3. Similarly, in the first census there were only 22,000 male Levites aged one month and older, as compared with 32,200 male adults in the next smallest tribe, Menashe. Perhaps Levites, too, were a privileged class in Egypt and few of them joined the Exodus; see ibid., 5:16. Alternatively, their higher status corresponded with a drop in fecundity; cf. Shemot 1:12.

[5] Shemot Rabbah 1:8.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Longest Letter Word

A letter that a boy in my neighborhood sent to the editor of The Jewish Press but was not published:
let me start off by saying that i read The Jewish Press every week, and i really enjoy it.

however, i was surprised to read something that isn’t true.

i am referring to the Tales from our Gaonim from the May 14th issue.

you quote the Taz asking "I know words that contain nine letters but where in the Bible do we find a Hebrew word that contains 10 letters?" , and you quote the daughter of the Bach responding to this question that "in the Torah itself there is no such word, but in the Book of Esther we do find the word Veha’achashdarpenim, which contains 11 letters".

that is not true - there is a 10 letter hebrew word in the Torah - in Chumash Shmos, Perek 7, Posuk 28 - namely Uvimisharosecha.

if the story happened, i’m sure the question was where do we find a word that contains MORE than 10 letters (since the Rambam said "10 letters, or more or less", and the Taz must have been questioning the "or more"), and then the answer would be correct that in the Torah itself there is no such word that has MORE than 10 letters, but in the Book of Esther there is.

i’m looking forward to your clarification on the subject.

Brooklyn, NY

The Road from Euphoria

R. Emanuel Feldman's reflections on the 40th Yom Yerushalayim (link):
It has been a long, winding road from the euphoria of 1967. If it has taken us from Deuteronomy's warnings about invincibility to Proverbs' warnings about humility, then the painful journey will have been worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Meetings of Great Minds

Reuven Kimmelman, "Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel on Jewish-Christian Relations" in Modern Judaism 24:3 (October 2004), pp. 263-264 n. 7:
R. Shalom Dov-Ber Wolpo (Shemen Sasson me-Haveirekha [Holon, Israel, 5763], p. 186) reports that R. Ephraim Wolf wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe that the former president of Israel, Zalmen Shazar, told him that Soloveitchik, whom he met in his hotel in New York City, mentioned that he had met both R. Schneersohn, the future Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Heschel in Berlin. Professor Haym Soloveitchik (telephone conversation, March 16, 2004) told me that his father told him that he only saw the future Rebbe pass by. My wife's uncle, Zvi Kaplan of Jerusalem, told me that R. Yitshak Hutner told him that he was with the future Rav and Rebbe together at a lecture on Maimonides at the university (apparently in 1929). After the lecture, when the professor approached Schneersohn for his opinion, he deferred to Soloveitchik. In any case, in Berlin both Heschel and Soloveitchik maintained relations with R. Hayyim Heller, R. Jehiel Weinberg, and Professor Eugene Mittwoch.

R. Fabian Schoenfeld (telephone conversation, March 21, 2004) recalls seeing Heschel in the 1960s at two of Soloveitchik's yahrzeit lectures for his father in Lamport Auditorium of Yeshiva University. Haym Soloveitchik recalls that in 1962-1963 he saw the two together twice in his father's Yeshiva University apartment and heard of a third meeting from his mother, who was at all three. He also recalled (telephone conversation, June 23, 2004) that R. Heschel consoled R. Soloveitchik in 1967 when he was sitting shiv'ah for his mother in her or his brother's apartment in New York. Heschel's daughter, Professor Susannah Heschel, e-mailed me that she recalls Soloveitchik visiting her father in their home in the mid- or late 1960s and that he paid a shiv'ah call when Heschel died (Shabbat night, December 23, 1972).

Schechter in Teaneck

I see that the Solomon Schechter High School in Teaneck is in danger of closing down (link). All I can say is that if there had been a Schechter high school in Teaneck when I was growing up then I almost certainly would have gone there instead of an Orthodox high school, and this blog (among other things) would never have existed. I can't say whether the community as a whole would be better off without such a school but I know that I am.

JIB Awards

The final rounds of the Jewish Israeli Blogosphere Awards is here. Please vote for Hirhurim in these categories:

Best Overall Blog
Best Mega Blog
Best Jewish Religious Blog
Best Torah Blog

Monday, May 14, 2007

Two Types of Chumros

R. Moshe Chaim Luzzatto discusses chumros, stringencies in Jewish law, twice in his book Mesillas Yesharim in very different contexts: in chapter 4, while discussing the ways of acquiring the trait of zehirus (watchfulness), the first and lowest of the traits discussed in the book; and in chapter 14, while describing the different aspects of the trait of perishus (asceticism). The question is why R. Luzzatto discusses the same topic as being part of two very different religious traits.

I believe that the answer is that there are two types of chumrah:

1. Behaving strictly when one is unsure what the law is.
2. Following minority opinions that are stricter than the established law.

Part of the trait of zehirus is to be strict when one is unsure either of what the conclusion is of a legal discussion or how to apply the law in a particular case. But if one knows that halakhah permits an act, even if there is a debate about it but a definitive pesak has been given to you, then even someone who has mastered the trait of zehirus may perform it.

Perishus is going beyond the law. One refrains from something that is technically permitted due to perishus, asceticism. Even though a legal debate has been concluded in favor of permitting this act, an ascetic (a parush) may choose to be strict for a minority opinion.

I think it should be clear from the Mesillas Yesharim that this latter attitude should not be dismissed or frowned upon. However, it is a form of asceticism and should, presumably, be accompanied with the other forms of asceticism mentioned in the same chapter.

(See also R. Doni Goldstein's article in the first issue of Hakirah - PDF)

Conversion Standards

Two insightful posts about the new RCA conversions standards:

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Pluralism and Beliefs

The Rashbash has an interesting responsum (no. 436) regarding the belief that the world will eventually be destroyed. Noteworthy is his conviction that the Bible and the Talmud explicitly teach that the world will be destroyed but still tells his respondent that since this is not a fundamental belief he can believe whatever he wants:
Regarding what you said about whether the world will be destroyed or not, and that your view is that it will not, and that you condemned those who say that it will and consider them to be ignorant fools. What will we do since this is the view of the Sages? They said, "The school of Eliyahu taught: The world will be for six thousands years and then destroyed for a thousand, as it says 'And the Lord alone will be exalted on that day' (Isa. 2:11)." This is mentioned in a number of places by the sages (Rosh Hashanah 31a; Sanhedrin 97a; Avodah Zarah 9a). And if the Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 2:28) does not share this view and explains the explicit verses according to his approach, the Ramban (Kisvei Ha-Ramban, vol. 1 pp. 159-160) relies on the words of the sages and agrees that the world be destroyed.

And know that one who believes that the world was not created contradicts the Torah, and every Jew is obligated to believe it. But whether or not it will be destroyed in the future does not damage one's beliefs as long as one agrees that God has the ability to do this and that it depends on His will. Just like he created it from absolute nothing he can destroy it. His ability is even more evident from His creating it than from His dismantling it.

A verse that teaches this [the eventual destruction of the world] and cannot be explained otherwise is: "Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end." (Ps. 102:26-28) Therefore, everything in existence will perish except for the True Existent whose existence is necessary. And even though there are commentators who explain "They will perish" as meaning if God so desires, and others explain it to refer to specifics, these are forced because according to these explanations why would it say "But You are the same, and Your years will have no end" if the heavens will exist forever... Therefore, what is revealed from this verse is the truth according to my view, but you believe whatever you want.
Yes, the Rambam does take the opposite view, so there are sages on either side of the debate. But the Rashbash thinks that the Rambam rejects the talmudic and scriptural view on this subject and still allows it.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Taking Responsibility

R. Yosef Blau has an Op-Ed in this week's The Jewish Press (link):
I believe that in the Jewish religious tradition, accepting responsibility is the fundamental quality required for leadership. In the biblical description of the struggle between Joseph and his brothers, Joseph, the visionary, becomes the vice-ruler of Egypt. Yet when Jacob blesses his children he proclaims the descendants of Judah to be the future kings of Israel. The qualities shown by Judah in the story outweigh the open leadership of Joseph.

Judah makes serious mistakes. He is the originator of the plan to sell his brother. In the account of his relationship with his daughter-in-law Tamar he does not keep his promise nor does he act morally. In each situation, however, he accepts responsibility. Judah publicly acknowledges that Tamar has been more righteous than he.

In order to get his father Jacob’s permission to allow the brothers to take Benjamin with them to Egypt, Judah takes responsibility to ensure that Benjamin will return safely. When Joseph accused Benjamin of theft and demanded that he become his slave, Judah stepped forward and was willing to pay the consequence of his guarantee. He offered himself as Joseph’s slave in his youngest brother’s place...

Jewish tradition neither demands nor expects perfection from Jewish leaders. To be human is to err. “There is no righteous person on this earth who does only good and never sins.” What is critical is how he reacts when he inevitably makes a mistake.

R. Zvi Yehuda on the Chazon Ish

Torah in Motion is having the following lecture.
The Hazon Ish
Thursday May 17

The Hazon Ish - The Person and his Vision
Rabbi Dr. Zvi A. Yehuda, chavruta of the Hazon Ish during the 1940's.
Thursday May 17, 2007 8:15pm (Mincha 8:00pm)
Or Chaim Yeshiva 159 Almore Ave , Toronto

Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Yehuda learned b'chevruta (study partner) with the Hazon Ish zt"l from 1944-1952. We are most fortunate that he will share with us a personal look at his revered teacher and his immense influence.

Rabbi Yehuda lives in Boca Raton Florida where he gives a daily shiur at the Boca Raton Synagogue.

Click here for 2 articles by written by Rabbi Dr. Yehuda on the
Hazon Ish on the State of Israel
Hazon Ish on Textual criticism and Halacha

New RCA Resolutions

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Wisdom Among the Nations

R. Avraham Kook, Orot, p. 152, translated in Ben Zion Bokser, The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook, p. 202:
God was charitable towards His world by not endowing all talents in one place, nor with one person, nor with one nation, nor with one country, nor with one generation, nor with one world. But the talents are diffused. The necessity of seeking perfection, which is the most important force that acts on us, causes us to seek an exalted unity that is bound to come for the world. In that day will the Lord be one, and His name one.

The disposition to universality always fills the hearts of the refined spirits of the human race. They therefore feel as though they are choking if they should be confined within the sphere of their own nation solely.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sins of Fathers

Lev. 26:39:
והנשארים בכם ימקו בעונם בארצת איביכם; ואף בעונת אבתם אתם ימקו

And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; also in their fathers' iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away.
Regarding the second half of the verse, Rashi quotes the Sifra that asks how a person can be punished for his ancestors' sins. The Sifra explains that one is only punished when one continues in the sins of one's ancestors. Then, even the punishment for the ancestors' sins are brought upon a person. However, Rashi seems to deduce this not from the thelogical question and scriptural contradiction (with Deut. 24:16) but from the word "אתם - with them". He seems to place that word with the former phrase rather than the latter, as translated above (in the New King James version), meaning that the ancestors' sins are with them rather than that they will languish with them. The difficulty raised about this is that the cantillation notes (trop) connect this word with the latter phrase and not the former (see R. Eliyahu Mizrachi's supercommentary on Rashi).

R. Tzvi Hersh Wessely, the author of the commentary on Leviticus in Moses Mendelssohn's Bi'ur, explains as follows, as described by R. Alexander Altmann in Moses Mendelssohn: A Biographical Study, pp. 415-416:
Wessely considered this interpretation a bit forced, yet he did not dismiss it entirely. He merely invested the rabbinic phrase "if they cling to the deeds of their fathers" with a new meaning: if the children of sinful parents are inclined to repeat the evil acts of their forebears, they will be punished, even though they did not actually commit the acts. For God, "who searcheth the hearts," knows that the evil desires they harbor would cause them to sin, should the opportunity present itself.

To cling to the deeds of their fathers is understood by Wessely to mean being predisposed to imitate their fathers. Divine justice is meted out because of God's knowledge of how the children would act in certain circumstances.
Mendelssohn, in an editorial note, strongly disagreed with this interpretation (ibid.):
Mendelssohn proceeds to explain why the children should have to bear the iniquities of their forefathers. Implicit in his little discourse on the subject is the view that there are two kinds of divine retribution, namely one that works through natural causes without requiring a miraculous intervention, and one that represents a supernatural and miraculous act. No punishment of the second kind is ever inflicted on children because of their fathers' sins. This is what the principle enunciated in Deuteronomy 24:16 amounts to. However, the evil inflicted as punishment for grave sins by a supernatural and miraculous divine intervention does not vanish with the generations upon which it was decreed. Its effects remain with their descendants, and what was once a miraculous event turns into a natural condition with natural consequences. It takes another miracle to undo these effects and restore the previous condition. Thus, Israel's exile from the Holy Land was not a natural punishment: it happened as the result of a special divine intervention. Once the Jewish nation was exiled, however, the fate of being in exile became a natural situation, and the children born in foreign lands bear the "yoke of exile" as a natural consequence of what once happened...

The meaning of the verse is therefore perfectly clear: the children do bear the natural consequences of the supernatural retribution decreed upon their fathers because of severe iniquities.
R. Ya'akov Tzvi Mecklenburg, in his Ha-Kesav Ve-Ha-Kabbalah, was clearly influenced by this discussion and quotes someone he calles RSh"P. He then offers his own explanation: "אבתם - fathers" comes from the root "אבה" which means desires. People in that situation are punished for their desires to sin even if they did not turn them into action.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Business Ethics in the Workplace

An article on MSN tells us that MBA degrees aren't such a big deal and that ethical behavior is (link):
When asked to assess executives based on characteristics other than their professional qualifications, 97 percent of U.S. executives, 86 percent of U.K. executives, 85 percent of German executives, and 69 percent of French executives said ethical behavior was extremely or very important.

For the U.S. and U.K. executives, ethical behavior topped the list of key attributes for an executive.
Learn more about business ethics in R. Aaron Levine's Moral Issues of the Marketplace in Jewish Law.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Gems in the Commentator: Legacies and Open Orthodoxy

The last articles in the Legacies series:Kudos to The Commentator and Zev Eleff in particular for creating this series.

Among the many interesting articles, there is an interview with Prof. Joel Roth of JTS (link). This question and answer caught my eye:
Commie: Even assuming that the laypeople would subscribe to halakha in the sense that the Conservative Movement views it, is that a movement which is really so different from the "Open Orthodoxy" espoused by Rabbi Avi Weiss? If not, what is the need for a Conservative Movement?

JR: If Open Orthodoxy is not radically different it's because they're really Conservative. I know they may reject such a claim. The truth is though if they're not radically different it's because they are in fact behaving the way the Conservative movement has always advocated. They're on their guard against being thrown out of the Orthodox world. They're being very careful to make sure that the world doesn't consider them to be conservative.
Yes, he did go there.

Conversion Agreement II


I've been informed that there is a pashkevil against Yashar Books (Defus Yashar) on Rechov Meah Shearim in Jerusalem. I'd greatly appreciate it if anyone can get a good picture of it or, even better, an actual sign.

UPDATE: It seems to be referring to a different publishing house:

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Colbert on Militant Atheism

Friday, May 04, 2007

Ibn Ezra on Tehillim

Now available on the Yashar website:

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra's Commentary on the First Book of Psalms: Chapters 1-41
translated into English by Rabbi H. Norman Strickman

Rabbi Abraham ben Meir ibn Ezra was one of the outstanding personalities produced by medieval Andalusian Jewry. He was a noted poet, mathematician, astrologer, grammarian, and philosopher. However, above all Ibn Ezra was one of the greatest Bible commentators of all time.

Ibn Ezra's commentary on Psalms is part of the important intellectual bequest that this great medieval scholar left behind. It, along with the other works produced by the great minds of Israel, is part of the great "inheritance of the congregation of Jacob."

More information
Buy the book


I heard R. Hershel Schachter speak yesterday evening at a dinner for the Hesder Yeshiva of Sderot. He quoted the Gemara in Yevamos 62b that learns the following law from the verse (Ecc. 11:6): "In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hands be idle" -- Even if one has children when one is young, one should continue having children even when one is older.

The Gemara continues that even if one learned Torah when young, one should continue learning when older. And even if one teaches students when one is young, one should continue teaching when one is older. The example brought for this second law is Rabbi Akiva, who had thousands of students, all of whom were killed (and for whom we observe the mourning aspects of Sefirah). It was only after they all died that Rabbi Akiva taught five talented students who became the pillars of the Mishnah -- Rabbi Meir, Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Elazar.

R. Schachter quoted R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik as once saying that the celebration on Lag Ba-Omer cannot be simply because Rabbi Akiva's students stopped dying. If that were the reason, then we should simply stop mourning. Why do we celebrate? He answered that we are celebrating the rebuilding that Rabbi Akiva did with his new students. Lag Ba-Omer is about recovering from destruction and starting anew. That, R. Schachter said, is what all yeshivos are in this post-Holocaust era -- rebuilding what was destroyed like Rabbi Akiva did. And this is especially so in places like Sderot, where they had to rebuild from Palestinian attacks.

The Illusion of Death

R. Chanan Morrison, Gold from the Land of Israel, p. 208:
Rav Kook wrote:
Death is a false illusion; its defilement is due to its deceptive nature. What people call "death" is in fact the intensification of life. Because man wallows in pettiness, he pictures this increase of life in a pained, black fashion, which he calls "death."
The kohanim in their holiness are able to rise above this falsehood. Yet, falsehood and deception rule over the world. In order to overcome the illusion of death, the kohanim must limit their exposure to death. They need to protect themselves from those images that impress the soul with deceiving messages.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

RCA Seeks to Combat Abuse of Children

From the RCA:
RCA Seeks to Combat Abuse of Children by Applying Public School Standards to Nonpublic Schools

May 1, 2007 -- Whereas, we, the Rabbinical Council of America, are deeply committed to the health, safety and security of all Jewish children attending yeshivas and Hebrew day schools, which includes their right to be free of any physical, emotional or sexual abuse or violence; and,

Whereas, we embrace the mitzvah of Lo ta'amod al dam ra'echa, (Do not stand upon the blood of your brother, Lev. 19:16), and we acknowledge the principle, BeHezaika DeRabim, Chaishinan Tfei (when there is an issue that affects the masses, we are vigilant), and how much more so does this principle apply when the health, safety and welfare of school children are affected; and,

Whereas, we acknowledge the devastating affect that even a single act of physical, emotional or sexual abuse can have upon a child, when inflicted by an adult authority figure, and such abuse can have long term serious physical and mental health consequences; and,

Whereas, we note that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, of blessed memory, writes in "Halachic Man", that his grandfather, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk, of blessed memory, was once asked what the function of a rabbi is, and he replied: “to address the grievances of those who are abandoned and alone, to protect the dignity of the poor, and to save the oppressed from the hands of his oppressor”; and,

Whereas, we acknowledge the legal principle of in loco parentis, which provides that during the school day, the yeshiva and day school stand in the shoes of the parents, and owe the children the high degree of care in health, safety and welfare that parents owe their children; and,

Whereas, we acknowledge the legal principle of parens patrae, whereby the government always has a legitimate interest in the health, safety, and welfare of its children-citizens, regardless of whether they attend public or nonpublic schools, and this interest is reflected in numerous statutes and judicial opinions; and,

Whereas, we take note of the U.S. Congress-mandated report prepared by the U.S. Department of Education, "Educator Sexual Misconduct" (June 2004), which documents the extent of the problem, and at section 12 strongly recommends for all schools employee background checks, registries of abusive school employees, standardized abuse prevention policies, and other prophylactic measures

Now, therefore, it is resolved that

We reiterate support for our 2005 convention resolution, Criminal Background Checks for Workers with Youth; and

We generally support the enactment of decent and humane laws that seek to secure and enhance the health, safety and welfare of nonpublic school children; and

We support the application to the nonpublic schools of the health and safety laws currently applicable to public schools, including
mandatory employee fingerprinting and halachically or legally appropriate background checks;
mandatory written school plans and polices intended to safeguard the life, health, and safety of children, and to prevent physical, emotional and sexual abuse, including appropriate reporting guidelines;
mandatory employee registration and disciplinary hearings;
mandatory emergency health care, including nursing, modern first aid, and modern medical devices, including, defibrillators; and
We call upon members of the RCA to encourage awareness of these issues with their constituencies so as to facilitate detection of abuse in our community.

Responding to Abuse

The current issue of The Jewish Press has a letter from Faye Wilbur, of the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, in response to Elliot Pasik's letter last week (link):
Re Elliot Pasik’s “How to Eradicate Abuse in Our Communities” (op-ed, April 27):

As an active member of the Task Force on Families & Children at Risk, I would like to assure Mr. Pasik that there is a lot of work being done in New York to protect our children. For many years we have been sponsoring educational symposia for mechanchim/mechanchot, rebbetzins, and the lay community abuse as well as on many other issues.

On May 9, my agency, the Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, will be hosting a similar program focused on prevention for the Queens community with Dr. David Pelcovitz as a presenter. Later in the month, the task force will be presenting a prominent rav and Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski to speak with mechanchim/mechanchot on this topic.

We in the frum mental health community have been responding, and the attitude of our rabbonim has likewise shifted. While the shift may not be as swift or as public as we might like it to be, I believe that, after 120 years, many members of the community will be able to respond confidently when we are asked “Ayeka?”

Faye Wilbur, LCSW
Boro Park Office
Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services
This is nothing short of infuriating. First of all, as a parent with children in Brooklyn yeshivas, why have I never heard of any of these educational symposia? Why have the teachers and principals with whom I have discussed this issue never heard of them? And, if they are so successful, why is there an eighth grade rebbe in a prominent yeshiva who is still allowed to have his students sit on his lap and rub his back (as told to me by a parent who complained to the administration and was ignored)? Why was a known sexual abuser run out of one town--a huge step--but not kept track of so that he is certainly living in another frum community, probably in Israel?

What I suspect is that this organization is full of well-meaning, tirelessly working people who are trying to do whatever they can to solve communal problems but will not, by any means, rock the boat or use any unconventional approaches. Yesterday's paradigms of change have proven ineffective. We need to think outside the proverbial box and do something that works.

Have attitudes shifted on this issue? Yes. And it is not due to any organization but to a single blogger who has gone much farther than I will but has gotten much better results than I ever will. Even if you disagree with him, try learning from him. Because he's gotten results while we've just run into one brick wall after another while children are suffering.

Calling out to the Lord

The Gemara (Berakhos 4b) states that one should preface the Shemoneh Esreh with the verse "ה' שפתי תפתח... O Lord, open my lips; and my mouth shall declare Your praise" (Psalms 51:17). If you look in most prayerbooks, there is another prefatory verse that precedes this -- "כי שם ה' אקרא... For I will proclaim the name of the Lord; acknowledge the greatness of our God" (Deut. 32:3).* However, this verse only appears prior to the Mincha (afternoon) and Mussaf (holiday additional) services. But it does not appear prior to the Shacharis (morning) and Ma'ariv (night) services. Why is this?

I came up with the following theory many years ago, which I later discovered to be explicit in the commentaries on Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 111:1): The same Gemara that mentions the practice of beginning Shemoneh Esreh with Ps. 51:17 asks how it is permissible to do so. Is there not a concept of being somekh ge'ulah li-tefillah, directly connecting the the Shema's message of redemption with the prayer of Shemoneh Esreh? If so, one should not be allowed to say anything other than words of prayer, so as not to interrupt the continuation. The Gemara answers that since Ps. 51:17 was added to the Shemoneh Esreh, it is considered an extension of the prayer and therefore not an interruption. But it does not say that about Deut. 32:3. Therefore, in Shacharis and Ma'ariv, when we recite Shema (and its blessings) and then proceed directly into Shemoneh Esreh, we cannot interrupt with an extra verse. But in Mincha and Mussaf, when we do not recite Shema and there is therefore no problem of interrupting, one may add this extra verse.

* Just because it appears in the prayerbooks does not mean that it has to be said. I actually do not say this verse. The following is from the Machazor Mesoras Ha-Rav Le-Yom Kippur, p. xxxvi par. 7:
The Rav [R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik]'s custom was not to say the verse כי שם ה' אקרא (Deuteronomy 32:3), prior to the Shemoneah Esrei of Mussaf or Minchah, since the practice to recite it is not found anywhere in the Gemara, as noted by the Vilna Gaon in Beur HaGra to Orach Chaim 111:1, s.v. ולא בשום (R' Menachem Gopin; see also Nefesh HaRav, p. 152).
In fact, Dr. Seligmann Baer's Siddur Avodas Yisrael does not have the verse printed in front of Shemoneh Esreh at all.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Proofs of God II

R. Jonathan Sacks, A Letter in the Scroll, pp. 223-224:
Can we really know whether faith is justified? Do we, citizens of modernity and post-modernity, not take for granted what Hume, Kant and Nietzsche labored to establish, that the existence of God cannot be proved? And do we not as Jews--always inclined to rationality, and now chastened and chilled by the Holocaust--have more reason to doubt than most? Yet I have to admit, even as a professionally trained philosopher, that I am unmoved by this whole trend of thought, rendered trivial by its own circularity. Of course it is possible to live a life without God, just as it is possible to live a life without humor, or music, or love; and one can no more prove that God exists that one can prove these other things exist to those who lack a sense of humor, or to whom Schubert is mere noise, or love a figment of the romantic imagination...

Jewish faith is not a metaphysical wager, a leap into the improbable. It is the courage to see the world as it is, without the comfort of myth [i.e. of competing gods - GS] or the self-pity of despair [i.e. the belief in impersonal and unstoppable forces - GS], knowing that the evil, cruelty and injustice it contains are neither inevitable nor meaningless but instead a call to human responsibility--a call emanating from the heart of existence itself

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Measure for Measure

Avakesh has an interesting post on shi'urim, the size requirements for mitzvos, i.e. how much matzah must one eat in order to fulfill the mtizvah (link)? In the late 18th century, R. Yechezkel Landau noticed that when comparing the Talmudic measurements based on the size of thumbs and those based on the size of eggs, there was a significant discrepancy. His conclusion was that the size of eggs had shrunk in half since the time of the Talmud (Tzelach, Pesachim 116b). Therefore, he concluded, we can calculate the approriate Torah measurements by using eggs and then doubling the size. Thus, the minimum amount of matzah is one olive's volume, which is half of a Talmudic egg. This would equal the volume of a full egg today. This was also accepted by his contemporary the Vilna Gaon (Ma'aseh Rav 74, 105) and has been accepted by many sages throughout the intervening years, most notably the Chazon Ish (Hilkhos Shabbos no. 39) and the Mishnah Berurah (271, Bi'ur Halakhah).

However, there have been those who disagree. Perhaps most prominent among them was R. Avraham Chaim Na'eh in his important work Shi'urei Torah, who defended what was at the time the custom in Jerusalem to use the smaller measure rather than the double measure. The Chasam Sofer (Orach Chaim 181) and the Aruch Ha-Shulkhan (Yoreh De'ah 324:10; Orach Chaim 168:13) also rule that we need not be strict on this.

Avakesh quotes a theory by Professor Avraham Yehudah Greenfield, published in the 1982 issue of Moriah (not Megadim), that if a thumb is measured slightly differently then the measurements are equivalent and there is no need to posit that eggs have shrunk and measurements must now be doubled:
Professor Greenberg responded with more and additional evidence and a reinterpretation of the Talmudic term on which everything was based. This term is rochav agodal.

This term is usually understood as thickness of the thumb at the knuckle; in other words, the distance across the width thumb. Professor Greenfeld argues that it should be taken as the thickness of the thumb from the nail to the opposite surface, which reduces rochav agodal by one half and removes the contradiction of Nodah B'Yehudah.
(See also here)

Interestingly, R. Eliezer Silver (d. 1968), in his book Tzemach Erez (Orach Chaim 486), posthumously published in 1975, offers the same theory. R. Shlomo Wahrman (Oros Ha-Pesach, no. 28), from whose essay on this subject most of the above sources were taken, quotes R. Silver as telling him that R. Meir Simcha of Dvinsk and the Rogatchover Gaon also agreed with this.

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